The Supreme Court's Decision in the Bush v. Gore Case

In 2000, many legal scholars tried to decipher the split decision made in the just concluded presidential election where regardless of the six different opinions; a clear majority of five justices ruled the same way. The Bush vs. Gore case presented an exciting and unique time for the judges because it was the only moment that the Supreme Court was given a chance to decide who would be the president of the United States (Denniston). It showed that judges have a considerable discretion conferred to them thus making their roles in cases quite useful. The closeness of the vote meant that the results of the Florida state would have a significant impact on the outcome but to worsen the situation, Bush was declared just after a few votes ("Bush v. Gore"). The Supreme Court justices did not concur with different aspects of the case each citing various reasons for their decisions.

It was apparent that the 5-4 ruling that was made by the Supreme Court on December 12, 2000, was crucial considering that it was bestowed upon the justices to decide on who becomes the president of the United States ("Bush v. Gore"). A question on whether the ruling will remain as a precedent is not yet answered because there is the aspect of voter equality which should also be taken into consideration. Bush challenged the decision to vote recount that had earlier been made contesting that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in which three justices found merit in the argument. The justices that concurred on the matter were Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas ("Bush v. Gore"). The justices who were opposed to the argument argued that it was a novel construction of the US constitution especially the fact that the word “legislature” was given more weight.

According to the chief justice Rehnquist, the Florida Supreme court violated Article II section 1 asserting that the court wrongfully substituted the judgment for that of the legislature (Lund 17-18).  The justices who dissented argued that it is a novel construction of the U.S constitution because it puts much weight on the word "legislature" positing that there should be no difference between the state that is expected to appoint its electors and its legislature.  Besides, Justice Rehnquist believes that the case is intended for federal judicial review hence should not be left in the hands of the states considering that the matter was also a highly charged political election (Raskin). However, this kind of argument is not expected of justices who support judicial restraint such as the Chief justice. Overruling a state Supreme Court on a case that touches on a state law may be described as an assertion of extraordinary power of the federal judicial power since Article II states that the U.S Supreme Court does not have any power to substitute their views with that of state judiciary when it comes to state law ("Bush v. Gore").

Chief Justice Rehnquist further accepted that indeed the Florida Court did their best in deciding the case but pointed out at the inability of the state to deal with sophisticated cases that were brought to them (Raskin). The Florida Supreme Court had to utilize the rules of statutory construction to deliver their ruling for instance in the way a legal voter was defined, but such interpretation was described by Chief Justice as irrational. The point of contention was the consistency with the Florida legislation and the fact that Article II was violated particularly in the manner in which punch-card ballots was perceived even though it was consistent with the interpretation of the Florida law ("Bush v. Gore").

It would not be fair to argue that the Florida Supreme Court was rational in all the decisions they made because there may be different approaches used by the justices hence the reason for a division of 4 to 3 in their ruling (Raskin). Statutes may be construed differently, and perhaps one would strongly disagree with the court's decision based on own interpretation. However, dismissing the ruling by the U.S Supreme court and declaring that the decision was not a law was being unfair to Florida's justice system. It is apparent that the Supreme Court came up with their interpretation of the State law instead of because the state's Supreme Court understood their law better. It may, however, be argued that the Florida Supreme Court ruling was purely based on established precedent without considering the aspects of Article II (Raskin).

Also, there is an aspect of equal protection violation as was observed with the concurring justices of the United States Supreme Court asserting that the recount mechanism ordered by Florida Supreme court did not consider the intent of the voter (Raskin). The critics argue that the equal protection decision did not have the concrete support in precedent hence may be regarded as a confused nonstarter because it made the justices to ignore other crucial issues that may have been looked at (Chemerinsky 969-71). The critics’ views may be supported by cases such as Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections that ruled against poll tax as well as the Reynolds v. Sims case that saw the judges scrutinizing the right to vote particularly in cases where there are aspects of discrimination ("Reynolds v. Sims"; "Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections"). Perhaps the best decision would have been ordering a recount in Florida State but insisting on fairness and consistency while carrying out the exercise.

The five-four decision that prevented a recount as ordered by the Florida Supreme court and the perception that the Florida legislature took advantage of the "safe harbor" was not a matter of law and was not consistent with the Equal Protection clause as they put it ("Bush v. Gore"). Although the justices nobility is argued by their sympathizers to have put a stop to the controversial issue there was no political crisis or social unrest that threatened the Republic hence the majority decision was not constitutionally legitimate. After the 1876 election, the Congress was tasked by the responsibility of dealing with presidential elections and the Supreme Court did not have a say on the issue (Stone). In preventing the recount, it is apparent that the concurring justices did not take account of the point hence their decision may be described as unlawful.

In most cases, the decisions made by the Supreme Court do not seem to depend on clear precedent because such claims are always complex hence the need for the court to interpret and give a convincing meaning (Stone). In giving sense, the justices may be forced to include their experiences and values because there may be no clear precedent and how they understand various aspects of the Constitution may affect their decisions (Chemerinsky 977-8). There is, therefore, a reason to believe that despite partisan affiliation that may arise among the justices, they are never influenced by partisan politics in making their decisions (Raskin). In Bush v. Gore, the majority decision could be perceived as activist hence could be viewed as dispositive of the case. It was however apparent that every justice of the Supreme Court have a unique view of the US constitution considering that the Equal Protection Clause was used to invalidate a recount.

Works Cited

"Bush v. Gore." Oyez, 7 Oct. 2018,

"Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections." Oyez, 8 Oct. 2018,

"Reynolds v. Sims." Oyez, 8 Oct. 2018,

Chemerinsky, Erwin. "The Meaning of Bush v. Gore: Thoughts on Professor Amar's Analysis." Fla. L. Rev. 61 (2009): 969-978.

Denniston, Lyle. Analysis: Bush v. Gore Live. Scotus Blog, 23 April 2006.

Lund, Nelson. "The Unbearable Rightness of Bush v. Gore." Cardozo L. Rev. 23 (2001): 1-71. Web.

Raskin, Jamie. Bush vs. Gore’s Ironic Legal Legacy. Los Angeles Times, 13 Dec. 2015.

Stone, R. Geoffrey. Equal Protection? The Supreme Court's Decision in Bush v. Gore. Fathom Archive, 2001. Web.

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